Tuesday, July 18, 2006

And Carlos was a nice guy!

The deputies of Reno 911! are back – on television and on DVD.

The fourth season of the popular comic police show has started on Comedy Central and the third season has just been released to DVD in a two-disc set.

If you’ve not seen the show, it’s a clever and raucous parody of FOX’s Cops. Set in Reno, Nevada, documentary cameras follow around a group of sheriff deputies during both their professional and personal lives.

Led by the hot pants-wearing Lt. Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon), The Reno squad includes the in your face Deputy Raineesha Williams (Niecy Nash), the flack-vest wearing depute Travis Junior (Robert Ben Garant), the deeply disturbed Deputy Trudy Weigel (Kerri Kenny), the amorous Deputy Clementine Johnson and ladies’ man Deputy S. Jones (Cedric Yarbrough), the seasoned vet and bigot Deputy James Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui) and the rookie Deputy Cheresa Kimball (Mary Birdsong).

Very politically incorrect, Reno is a show that constantly surprises and sometimes shocks. Viewers are never quite sure how far a gag will be taken. On episode in the third season DVD, Dangle and Junior go undercover at a spa to follow a suspect there for a massage. The suspect takes off in his car and Dangle and Junior rush out of the door of the spa in hot pursuit with only their socks and shoes on. The spa locks its doors behind them and they have to make their way back eight miles to the station house.

The third season opens with episodes that show how the group got kicked off the force, served time in jail and then resumed their lives but as civilians. There is some funny stuff here, especially with Dangle trying out for American Idol and Jones and Garcia relishing their new lives as mall cops.

The third season set also features two groups of extended outtakes which shows how the cast crafts the scene through trial and error. The cast provides commentaries on several episodes, which give insights into the creative process.


Carlos Alazraqui

What makes Reno unique in American television is that it’s a sit-com that is almost all improvised and after four seasons cast member Carlos Alazraqui said in an interview with Reminder Publications that the cast is now a lot better at the acting challenge than during the show’s first season.

He attributed the early success of the show to “dumb luck.”

He explained how the show is shot. The cast is given a general description of a scene and then rehearses a short length of time developing some of the dialogue. If the director likes the lines, they start filming. Alazraqui estimated that the actors improvise 70 percent of the show.

The show is not shot in Reno, Alazraqui explained. It’s filmed in the greater Los Angeles area. The sheriff’s station is a real police station in Carson, Calif., and Alazraqui said the officers generally support the show.
“Ninety-five percent really love it,” Alazraqui said.

He added that one officer in particular makes an effort to help them out by telling them about real life incidents that could be used for the comedy. He has told the cast that some of their antics are reflections of what has happened to cops in real life.

Alazraqui’s character is frequently paired off with Yarbrough’s Jones and that was because the two actors hit it off in the pilot. Alazraqui said the producers liked the physical contrast between the men as well as the fact that Garcia was an unapologetic bigot.

Alazraqui added that “the whole staff is racially prejudiced.”

Alazraqui comes to the show from a stand-up comedy background and from a very active career as a voice artist in animation. If you’ve watched Nickelodeon in the past few years, you’ve heard him on shows such as The Fairly Odd Parents (as the evil Mr. Crocker), Camp Lazlo (Lazlo and Clem) and Rocko’s Modern Life (as Rocko).

Rocko was his first animated role and he is again working with Rocko creator Joe Murray on his new show Camp Lazlo.

“I’ve come full circle with Camp Lazlo,” he said.

You also heard him as the voice of the Taco Bell Chihuahua, a commercial campaign that is still remembered six years after it ended.

“That was a bizarre thing to land,” Alazraqui said.

He’s a cast member of the new animated film Happy Feet due for release in November and plays a Latino penguin named Nestor. The voice cast also includes Robin Williams.

That feature film release will be following in January 2007 with the premiere of Reno 911!: Miami. Alazraqui explained that in the movie the Reno deputies travel to Miami to attend a law enforcement convention in Miami. They lack the proper credentials and are not allowed in.

But when a biohazard forced the quarantine of the officer in the convention hall, the Reno deputies takes to the streets of Miami to keep the peace.

The film was shot in the same improv style, although Alazraqui said the cast had to pay much closer attention to creating dialogue and situation that matched the movie’s plot.

Alazraqui still performs stand-up and he said he favors no one aspect of his career.

“It’s so relative to the situation,” he explained. “There is nothing like the live response [to stand-up] when they love you. I get paid to do goofy voices. That’s another high.”

“The benefits of a multi-pronged career is that I get to do different jobs,” he said.

© Gordon Michael Dobbs 2006. My words alone.

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